150 Years On: Karl Marx, Das Kapital/Capital, and the British Library
September 29th, 2017
September 14 marked the 150th anniversary of the original, German-language publication of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, later published in English-language editions (in multiple volumes) as Capital. What I find particularly interesting is that it was largely written in the reading room of the British Library (at the time located at the British Museum). Marx’s long history of using the library for reading, research and writing is detailed in the recent British Library European studies blog post by Izzy Gibbin, “150 Years of Capital.“
In Germany, the land of Marx’s birth, the international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) recently published “Karl Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’ still fascinates after 150 years,” a Q&A with author/journalist Bernd Ziesemer. To demonstrate that Marx’s influence goes well beyond economics and politics, on September 14th Artworld published “On the 150th Anniversary of ‘Das Kapital,’ Here Are 5 Works Inspired by Marx’s Seminal Text.” It depicts the influence on various works of dance, illustration, sculpture and other artistic expressions.
The anniversary has also been marked by a new book, Marx, Capital, and the Madness of Economic Reason by longtime Marx scholar David Harvey, a professor at the CUNY/City University of New York Graduate Center. You can read an excerpt via the publisher, Oxford University Press; and it has recently been reviewed by the Financial Times and the LSE Review of Books, from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
In addition, next year is the bicentenary of Marx’s birth, so there is sure to be more activity around the man, his work and his legacy. But interest in Marx remains high, anniversary or not. For instance, there is a new film from director Raoul Peck, The Young Karl Marx, which covers the time period 20 years before Capital, and well before Marx settled in London, where he lived until he end of his life. Late last year, Louis Menand wrote an extensive piece for The New Yorker, “Karl Marx, Yesterday and Today.”
It’s worth reflecting if a present-day Marx would also camp out and research/write/work in the British Library, or, taking advantage of modern technology, if he would spread his time over a variety of settings. He was a tenuously-employed freelance writer for the New York Tribune and elsewhere (Penguin has also published Dispatches from the New York Tribune: Selected Journalism of Karl Marx), and as such, would be familiar with today’s Gig Economy. It’s easy to think of a current-day Marx working from libraries, his home and perhaps Starbucks or a similar commercial venue. Or maybe even paying for coworking space at WeWork or elsewhere.
As I noted in a recent post, Capital is one of the featured works in 50 Economics Classics, by Tom Butler-Bowdon. In placing Capital in context and in assessing its continued relevance, Butler-Bowdon writes that “Marx wished to provide a damning case against laissez-faire economics, and even if you are an ardent capitalist it is hard to walk away from the book without thinking about the perennial question of labor versus capital, and whether things have even changed much since Marx’s day.”